*Govt debunks claim •Experts examine alleged bid
By Hugo Odiogor
Al-Qaeda’s alleged plan to set up a command and control base in Nigeria is creating diplomatic ripples as Nigeria debunked the claim, last week, insisting that country is not a safe haven for anarchist groups. Indications, however, emerged that the pro-jihadist group may have chosen to set up its operational base in Nigeria in its terrorist war with America and the Western countries.
Britain’s intelligence MI5 had allegedly warned the prime minister, Mr. David Cameron, that Al-Qaeda wants to set up a command and control centre in Nigeria to gain access to the United Kingdom (UK) where there are dozens of flights from Lagos to London daily.
FG dismisses claim
Officials of Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja dismissed the claim in an interview with Sunday Vanguard, calling it a brilliant piece of fiction that suits the mood of the times. An official of the ministry, who pleaded confidentiality, said: “That report did not substantiate its claim but just preferred to cite the Boko Haram uprising to buttress it. It is a perfect conjecture of the author’s imagination.
It is obvious that haters of Nigeria will capitalise on the Boko Haram incident to further dent the image of the country.” The official will not elaborate on why the FG has not issued an official statement on the claim that was published on July 4, 2011, saying “government does not conduct its operations based on media reports.”
But diplomatic sources in Lagos cited several factors that may have favoured Al-Qaeda strategy in considering using Nigeria as a launch pad. First, according to the sources, is the issue of lack of consensus among the ruling elite on the acquisition and use of political power which is tearing them from the different parts of the country apart. The sources explained that the winner takes it all mentality and the attitude of ‘let’s destroy if it is not ours’ has paved the way for a deep gulf that external forces may capitalise on politically and economically.
“The people who lead radical groups like Al-Qaeda are smart politically and will cash-in on this to their advantage. This is what the multinational oil companies are doing and a multinational terrorist group like Al-Qaeda is very smart”, one of the sources told Sunday Vanguard. Another critical factor listed is the issue of Nigeria’s international borders and weak internal security network. Said our source: “Our porous borders make it possible for narco-terrorism and gun running to thrive.
Narco-terrorism thrives in this kind of environment because it provides the anarchists easy access to funds to pursue their cause. With the global community targeting the source of funds used by terrorists, they would want a country where the banking regulations are weak and the internal security is lax. @With the drug war in Mexico being part of the global strategy to cut off the source of funds through narco-terrorism, it is obvious that the evil men would look for another safe haven, which is where Nigeria with it porous borders becomes attractive because it makes it easier for them to move in and out of the country without much hindrance. They could consider recruitment of attackers from neigbouring countries which have been identified as providing personnel to unleash mayhem in Nigeria”.
Thirdly, the state institutions in Nigeria are considered to be weak, especially the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary which are believed to be reluctant to apprehend and punish suspected terrorists. “It is one thing to have the anti-terrorism legislation and another to have the political will to enforce it. Unfortunately, there is no political will to do that and, when you have a large army of unemployed young people who want easy access to wealth, rogue groups like Al- Qaeda will easily recruit people to do its jobs. For these deprived people, their love for money is high than the level of love for their country. In a country where a lot of its citizens are living below the poverty line national interest it is so easy to compromise,” the diplomatic source said.
“We know that countries like Yemen, Somalia, Kenya were considered by Al-Qaeda as potential candidates for their operational base but Nigeria is strategic as an influential country in sub-Sahara Africa with the highest Muslim population and a high concentration of western economic interests with endemic corruption, high incidence of poverty and fervent fundamentalist fire in the northern part of the country. It is so easy to compromise national interest for material gains.”
But a US based security consultant told Sunday Vanguard: “Since the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the feared Al-Qaeda leader, in May, relations between the US and Pakistan has been at the lowest ebb because of the violation of the sovereignty of the Asian country. The targeting of known Al-Qadea leaders worldwide has made those countries unsafe for them and there is no guarantee that Nigeria will be a secure base for Al-Qaeda. I have doubts that Nigeria, especially the north, will provide the expected safe haven for Al Qaeda.”
Mrs. Uchenn C. Ekwueme, an expert in international relations, said the Federal Government must address the issues that make Nigeria a potential base for the Al-Qaeda instead of sweeping the claim under the carpet. According to her, there is social discontent at all the social strata and this poses serious threats to national security. “The threat from MASSOB, OPC, Niger Delta militants and now Boko Haram raises serious concerns on the ability of the state to enforce its laws”, she stated.
“The possibility of Al-Qaeda setting up shop in Nigeria will have serious implication for Nigeria’s economic relations with the industrialised nations who believe that their economic interests in Nigeria will be imperiled. Nigeria cannot afford to have its sovereignty violated as we have seen in Pakistan and Afganistan which have been turned into banana republics, but, above all Nigeria cannot afford to descend to the status of a rogue state.”
International community rattled
Diplomatic sources claimed United States and the European Union (EU) have become increasingly concerned and watchful of the developments in Nigeria. “The revelation of the alleged Al-Qaeda plan to operate from Nigeria has caused a stir among the western countries, the US and other friendly countries who are lining up support for the Federal Government to tackle the scourge of terrorism rearing its head in Nigeria”, one source pointed out.
The issue of terrorism featured prominently in last week’s bilateral meeting and talks between German chancellor Angela Merkel and President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja while some other European countries, notably Britain and France, are set to respond to the new security challenge facing Nigeria.
The issue of training of security personnel and counter intelligence equipment, sharing of intelligence are areas Nigeria expects external support to combat terrorism.
Mrs Ekwueme said the urban terrorism introduced by Boko Haram and the ferocity of their attacks has raised diplomatic stakes for Nigeria as the leadership will now communicate serious diplomatic issues rather than going to the world fora to ask for support to tackle malaria and typhoid.
“Now, we can engage the world diplomatically even though the Boko Haram is of negative value. We know that urban terrorism Boko Haram has introduced has caught the security agencies napping as they never expected people carrying and detonating explosive devices at random,” she added.